The secret to the Tampa Bay Rays’ success is no secret, their pitching. The secret to the pitching may just be Jim Hickey. And according to David Price, the secret to Hickey is “his ability to communicate.”
But more importantly, Hickey’s secret to success may actually be knowing when to communicate and when not to communicate.
Eddie Matz of ESPN.com has a new column on Hickey titled, “The Hoss Whisperer.”
Matz writes about Hickey’s extreme levels of patience with his pitchers, such as waiting as long possible before visiting the mound to have a chat with a struggling pitcher. But his true patience comes with mechanics and it appears to be by-design…
“Well, take the first time he laid eyes on Archer, in February 2011. Hickey saw a kid who delivered 98 mph cheese and a filthy slider. He also saw someone whose relatively short stride made for an inconsistent release point. Even though Hickey knew he wanted Archer to lengthen his stride, he held his tongue. He held his tongue through Archer’s stop at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. He held his tongue when Archer appeared at spring training. He even held his tongue after Archer’s call-up in June, watching the kid labor through his first four 2013 starts, when he walked 14 hitters in 19 innings, making it past the fifth inning only once and losing three of four games. At last, Hickey intervened…”Do you wanna be the four-inning, 100-pitch guy,” the coach asked his righthander during batting practice at Yankee Stadium, “or do you wanna be the dominant elite guy?” Moments later, Archer stood atop the bullpen mound in the Bronx with Hickey by his side, the two of them working on adding an extra two or three inches to the starter’s stride. “It was a minor thing,” says Hickey, whose rule of thumb is to give his pitchers six starts before offering any kind of adjustments, “but I thought it would help Archie out.” Three days after the intervention, Archer beat the Yankees, and he went undefeated in his next seven outings, in which he threw two shutouts, averaged nearly seven innings per start and walked a grand total of 11 batters.”
This revelation clears up some things we have seen with Rays pitchers in the past. If you recall, we have broken down how much David Price’s windup has changed over the years. More specifically, the windup has been simplified to minimize the number of things that can go wrong.
We also have wondered why Hickey hasn’t done the same thing with Matt Moore, who has a windup very similar to the one Price used to use.
It now seems plausible that Hickey envision making the changes all along, but waited until the right moment with Price, and is still waiting for the right moment with Moore.
Hickey doesn’t explain why he waited to make the changes with Archer and Price. But it may have to do with an organizational practice of teaching the prospects how to fail. When a prospect is dominating the minors, everything seems easy. It is hard to convince that player that they need to do something different when everything is going so well. Instead, by waiting for a player to experience failure, it is easier to get through to that player and at the same give them a sense of how to fail, adjust, and adapt to become better.
Unfortunately, this type of philosophy leads to a lot of hiccups along the way. But in the long run the players are in a better position to dominate.